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ACM TechNews
July 11, 2007

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Welcome to the July 11, 2007 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


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12 IT Skills That Employers Can't Say No To
Computerworld (07/11/07) Brandel, Mary

A group of experts including Google engineering manager and founding member of ACM's professions and education boards Kevin Scott identify a dozen technology skills that are in high demand among companies. These skills include knowledge of machine learning applications, which Scott says is increasing the need for data mining, data structure, and statistical modeling skills; application mobilization, which is growing in importance as mobile devices gain value as business tools; wireless networking, which raises issues of security and integration, says CompTIA's Neill Hopkins; human-computer interaction or user interface design; "true" project management driven by bias against overbudget or failed projects; and basic networking. Network convergence technicians and open-source programmers are also becoming increasingly desirable, and enthusiasm for the first group is building because of companies' decision to deploy voice over IP, Hopkins says. Traction is gaining for business intelligence skills and a familiarity with BI technologies, says Sean Ebner of Spherion Pacific Enterprises. People who combine skills with languages such as C#, C++, Java, and .Net with the ability to lead a team or coordinate projects are in demand, as are people skilled in the installation and integration of digital home technology products. Information Systems Security Association President Howard Schmidt calls attention to a growing emphasis on security skills and certification among all kinds of employers. "Everything I see in Silicon Valley is completely contrary to the assumption that programmers are a dying breed and being offshored," Scott says. "From big companies to startups, companies are hiring as aggressively as possible."
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Carnegie Mellon Researchers Use Web Images to Add Realism to Edited Photos
Carnegie Mellon News (07/10/07)

Carnegie Mellon University computer graphics researchers have developed systems for editing and altering photographs that automatically find images that fit with the original photo. The systems create well-blended images with minimal user skills, unlike traditional photo editing that can require a significant amount of skill. "We are able to leverage the huge amounts of visual information available on the Internet to find images that make the best fit," says assistant professor of computer science and robotics Alexei A. Efros. "It's not applicable for all photo editing, such as when an image of a specific object or person is added to a photo. But it's good enough in many cases." One system, called Photo Clip Art, uses images from the Web site LabelMe, which has thousands of labeled images, to add images to photos. For example, a picture of an empty street may be filled with images of people, vehicles, and even parking meters. To make the resulting picture as realistic as possible, the image analyzes the original photo to determine camera angle and lighting conditions. Then the system looks in the clip art library for appropriate images that fit the dimensions. The other system, called Scene Completion, uses millions of photos from the Web site Flickr to fill in holes in photos. Frequently, photo editors try to fill in the hole with a section from the same picture, but Efros says a better match can be found in a different photo. Efros and his colleagues will present papers on the two systems at the ACM SIGGRAPH annual conference, Aug. 5-9 in San Diego. For more information about ACM SIGGRAPH, or to register, visit http://www.siggraph.org/s2007/
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Determined to Reinspire a Culture of Innovation
New York Times (07/10/07) P. D3; Dean, Cornelia

William A. Wulf, a well-known and respected research and computer science entrepreneur, served as president of the National Academy of Engineering for 11 years. Now, Wulf is trying to revive American innovation. Wulf says learning and investment are not enough, and that an innovative economy depends on intellectual property law, tax codes, patent procedures, export controls, immigration regulations, and factors that compose what he calls "the ecology of innovation." Wulf believes that in the United States, too many of these components are inadequate, outdated, unworkable, or "fundamentally broken." After leaving office in June, Wulf started a project that he hopes will repair the broken elements of America's ecology of innovation and create new resources for creative thinking and invention as science and technology evolve. "Even if we fixed every one of the components of this innovation ecology to be just right for today and tomorrow, they probably would not be a week hence," Wulf said before he left office. "At least every once in a while we should stand back and say what was the intent of intellectual property protection, and what was the intent of export control regime, and what was the intent of antitrust? And in the light of today's technology, what's the best way to achieve that?" Wulf argues that antitrust laws and the patent system are outdated and, in some cases, counterproductive, particularly when dealing with software and technology, where the technology is irrelevant before the patent expires. Wulf warns that unless more is done to improve the ecology of innovation, the United States will lose its chance to capitalize on customized mass production manufacturing. Wulf's greatest regret about the future of innovation is not the potential economic loss, but that fewer and fewer people will experience the thrill of inventing something elegant and useful.
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New Leadership Begins at IU School of Informatics
Indiana University (07/10/07)

The Indiana University School of Informatics has named accomplished computer scientist and researcher Robert B. Schnabel its new dean. Schnabel left the University of Colorado at Boulder to take the reigns of the School of Informatics on July 1, 2007. At Colorado, he was vice provost/associate vice chancellor for academic and campus technology and professor of computer science, and he was the founding director for the Alliance for Technology, Learning and Society (ATLAS) Institute. Schnabel is the chair of ACM's Education Policy Committee. The School of Informatics is the newest school at the university, having been established in 2000, and it includes the Department of Computer Science and the New Media Program, and has 1,500 undergraduate and graduate students and more than 1,100 alumni. "The School of Informatics is at a very special time in its young life where it has great potential, and is unusually welcoming of new leadership that will help it prioritize, set and reach goals, attract resources, and ultimately excel in education and research," says Schnabel. Indiana University President Michael McRobbie says, "Professor Schnabel not only brings to IU an outstanding record of research and academic accomplishments in the field of informatics, but also a penetrating vision of how new technology can accelerate the expansion of knowledge in virtually every discipline."
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Microsoft Cultures Creativity in Unique Lab
USA Today (07/11/07) P. 3B; Acohido, Byron

Researchers at Microsoft's Mobile and Embedded Devices Experience design center (MEDX) have been investigating how ordinary people use cell phones in order to get them to use smart phones in the future. Smart phones, which currently account for about 10 percent of all phones sold, are expected to account for 20 percent of cell phones by 2010, according to researcher IDC. Pieter Knook, senior vice president of Microsoft's Mobile Communications Business, says, "To achieve our goal of putting a smart phone in everybody's pocket, we need to establish a better connection with that end user and really understand how they want to use this phone." Instead of the traditional individual cubicles and offices, all employees at MEDX share long desks with computer monitors that swivel 360 degrees to share ideas. The walls are actually floor-to-ceiling white boards, intended to inspire collaborative brainstorming. The research lab employs ethnographers, designers, strategists, user experience experts, and engineers in an open environment designed to generate innovative thinking. "We may have 100 little pieces we're working on," says MEDX general manager Ira Synder. "The ability to pop folks out and place them in different groups is invaluable. Whoever can help out, we let them play." Microsoft is hoping the unconventional approach will pay off and help Microsoft capture more of the smart phone market. Last year, Microsoft supplied the operating system for 9.8 million smart phones, an increase from 6.1 million in 2005, according to IDC, and managed to outsell RIM for the first time, which shipped 7.3 million BlackBerrys. IDC predicts that by 2010, as many as 260 million smart phones will be shipped worldwide.
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Color Matching By Phone
Technology Review (07/11/07) Greene, Kate

Hewlett-Packard Labs is working on a research project designed to help people choose matching colors. The technology could be used to help coordinate redesigning a room or selecting the correct shade of makeup. The research prototype HP Labs principal scientist Nina Bhatti and her team developed is specifically designed to help people find the best shade of makeup for their skin tone. This service could potentially be very useful as studies have shown that up to 75 percent of women wear the wrong shade of makeup, according to Bhatti. Using the HP prototype, a consumer takes a picture of herself while holding a color-reference chart, which can be found at makeup counters, catalogs, and magazines. After HP receives the picture, software compares the values of the color-reference chart to the known values of these colors. A color-correction algorithm measures the difference between these values and applies it to all of the pixels in the picture to compensate for harsh lighting or poor camera quality. Then face-detection software finds the person's face and determines the person's predominant color. The face color is compared to a database of faces with different skin tones to select and send the consumer a matching makeup color. The technology could also be used to match paint, furniture, clothing, and rugs.
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Scientists Say Computers May Replace Drugs
Times Online (UK) (07/11/07) Richards, Jonathan

Some scientists believe that advanced computer models will eventually replace human and animal drug testing by predicting the body's response to various substances. Scientists say computer models would bring "unprecedented benefits" to medicine, and may even eliminate the need for drugs completely by finding ways to stimulate the body's immune system to react to threats. By building sophisticated computer models with extensive knowledge about an organism, predictions can be made about how the organism will react to a drug by turning on and off different cell functions in the model. David Harel, professor of computer science and applied mathematics at the Weizmann Institute of science, says recent computer models of sections of the pancreas has led to a greater understanding of diabetes, and that a model of cancerous cells is also providing information on tumor development. However, Harel cautions that building a complete computerized model for even a simple organism would take more than 10 years, and that lab-based drug testing will not end anytime soon. Andrew Herbert, managing director at Microsoft Research Cambridge, says, "Biology and computing science have gotten a lot closer together, to the point where you can now imagine a world where health care is based on software that knows about you and your immune system."
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IT Jobs Get Hot as Baby Boomers Retire
Network World (07/10/07) Dubie, Denise

The retirement of millions of baby boomers could provide IT professionals with an opportunity for higher salaries, better benefits, and long-term security, but could also cause such a skills shortage that IT managers might have difficulty supporting a business, says Forrester Research in a new report. Across all industries, an estimated 25 million Americans are set to retire by 2020, and Forrester Research says IT job seekers will have an advantage when dealing with hiring managers eager to fill vacant positions. A survey of about 1,400 CIOs by Robert Half Technology found that about 16 percent planned to hire IT professionals during the first quarter of this year, the largest hiring increase since the fourth quarter of 2001. "The IT job market is hot once again," Forrester says. "Because there is great demand, IT workers, especially those with highly sought after skills, require extra wooing from IT leaders." Despite the high demand, fewer young people are entering or are interested in IT careers. The Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California said there was a 70 percent decline in interest in computer science majors between 2000 and 2005, and a 17 percent drop in computer science graduates since 2005. Forrester says companies need to promote the cultural benefits of working in IT in addition to considerable compensation packages in order to attract and retain IT professionals. "As the baby-boomer shortage places pressure on certain skill sets, the principles of supply and demand will take hold," Forrester warns.
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Researchers: Chip Breakthrough Offers Clear Advantage
Investor's Business Daily (07/10/07) P. A6; Detar, James

Purdue University, Northwestern University, and University of Southern California researchers led by Purdue's David Janes used nanowires to create transparent transistors and circuits that could be used for a variety of products, including heads-up displays in cars, reusable electronic paper, and clear display screens. Janes' research was partially funded by the National Aeronautics & Space Administration, which is interested in embedding transparent chips into astronauts' space suits. Heads-up displays have been used in aircraft for years, and is starting to be used in luxury cars and motorcycle helmets, but the technology relies on complex light-projection systems that are too expensive for most consumers. Transparent transistors and circuits could make such systems cheaper and more available. Northwestern professor Tobin Marks says practical products made from the clear nanowire transistors could be available in two years, and he expects one of the first products to be automotive windshields. The research group's first effort was to make clear transistors and simple computer circuits. Now the group will focus on making more complex structures, such as material for screens that can replace liquid crystal displays. "This is one of the Holy Grails of electronics," says Gartner analyst Dean Freeman. "Everybody wants to get where you can put a display on your windshield and see through it."
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UW Offers Deaf, Hard of Hearing Chance to Excel at Computer Academy
Seattle Post-Intelligencer (07/08/07) Lee, Rachel

The University of Washington is offering deaf, blind, and hard of hearing students a chance to learn computing at the Summer Academy for Advancing Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Computing program. This summer marks the first year of the program, during which students will learn how to program software, model 3-D objects, and make cartoon figures move. The 10 students participating in the class are deaf or hard of hearing, and one is also blind. Program coordinator Robert Roth said that other educators often fail to recognize the talent students with such disabilities have and often suggest less technical jobs, but that program officials hope to encourage the students to consider careers in the field and not be discouraged by their disabilities. The students, all of which are male, are all in either high school or college and will receive college credit for attending the academy. The program's tuition, room and board, and transportation costs are all paid for by grants the university received for the program. The organizers hope to recruit some female students for the program next year. After taking courses in math, science, computer programming, and animation, the students will create a short animated clip for their final project. During the program, students will also meet successful role models in the industry who are deaf or blind, as well as tour Boeing, Google, Adobe, and Microsoft.
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Scientists Study How to Make Humanoid Robots More Graceful
Stanford News (07/05/07) Young, Chelsea Anne

Researchers at Stanford University have developed a computer prototype of a robot that can move without clearly computing its trajectories in advance, unlike conventional robots. The approach of computer science professor Oussama Khatib and his team at the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory is to have robots act more like humans. The team has developed an energy-minimization strategy that is based on the way humans, as infants, learn to interact with the world around them--by touching, pushing, and moving objects, and ultimately avoid movements and positions that lead to physical discomfort. Bioengineering and mechanical engineering professor Scott Delp filled a key role in helping Khatib study how humans move by attaching sensors to test subjects, and then devising a multivariable model based on the least amount of physical exertion for every position. StanBot is a simulation, but Khatib wants to implement the energy-minimization strategy in Honda's humanoid ASIMO robots in about a year. "The goal is to provide these robots with human-like manipulation skills," says Khatib. "All of this is going to give ASIMO new capabilities to have advanced behavior like a human and to interact with the world."
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Girls Get Grounding in Gigabytes
Telegram & Gazette (07/07/07) Binczyk, Pawel Z.

Quinsigamond Community College is using its Technology Academy for Girls to expose public school students in Worcester, Mass., to computer science. Approximately 30 girls, from ages 10 to 14, recently spent a day building computers, and then installing and configuring the Linux operating system on their machines. "The hope is that these machines will last them through high school," QCC faculty member Betty J. Lauer said of the computers, which the girls will be able to keep. Lauer created the free program and has run it for the past five years. QCC, the Fred Harris Daniels Foundation, the Greater Worcester Community Fund, and Intel are sponsors of the program. Presents such as new printers, monitors, and other peripherals are given to the girls each day, and they are taught how to install and use them. Intel donates or provides discounts on much of the equipment, and also offers a tour of its production facility in Hudson. In addition to listening to discussions on topics such as removable storage media, Internet safety, and virus protection, the girls are taught how to use computers for fun, such as for use with digital cameras and for music collecting.
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Will Supercomputer Speeds Hit a Plateau?
ZDNet Asia (07/10/07) Tan, Lynn

Experts from IBM and Sun Microsystems believe high-performance computers should continue to get faster in the years to come. Jeffrey Dunn, IBM Singapore's business unit executive for Deep Computing in Asia Pacific, views accelerator chip technology as one of the ways to make HPCs faster. Accelerator chips, which assume some of the computing tasks of the main processor, could have a significant impact on hybrid supercomputer designs, says Dunn, and he offers the Cell Broadband Engine (CBE) as an example. "CBE is good at graphics, so a CBE accelerator would perform graphics-intensive calculations," he says. IBM is currently involved in a project with the U.S. Department of Energy to build and design the first supercomputer based on the CBE, and there are plans to have the Roadrunner machine sustain speeds of up to 1,000 trillion calculations per second, or one petaflop. Simon See, Sun Microsystems' director for Advance Computing Solution, System Practice and Global Science and Tech Network, agrees that there should be no technical or engineering issues for making faster supercomputers, but says power consumption is a concern. "What is key is that supercomputing can potentially take up so much power that the site where it is housed can not allow it to function properly," See says.
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Search Engine Mashup
EurekAlert (07/06/07)

Chinese researchers have built a new search engine that will make it easier for Internet users to return relevant results. The search engine is comprised of a search agent and an intelligent virtual robot that can scan data quickly for keywords and assess content. Information scientists Liu Wei and Chen Junjie of the Taiyuan University of Technology in Shanxi also make use of so-called meta search engine technology, which scans information from all available sources. The new search engine brings the distinct technologies together to create a tool that offers a better precision rate and recall rate than traditional search engines, and does a good job of meeting the query results of users. For example, the new tool would be able to determine that a user wants results about apples and not Apple computers, and would be able to pick up on a frequently searched football team and preferentially retrieve information on that team for subsequent queries. The researchers believe the search engine will be especially helpful as the information resources online continue to expand. The new search robot is featured in Inderscience's International Journal of Agent-Oriented Software Engineering.
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Using a Robot to Teach Human Social Skills
Wired News (07/09/07) Cole, Emmet

A humanoid robot designed to teach autistic children social skills is being tested in British schools. Autistic children frequently exhibit robot-like behavior, including a lack of emotion, obsessive and repetitive behavior, and difficulty communicating and socializing. The robot, known as KASPAR, for Kinesics and Synchronization in Personal Assistant Robotics, can smile, simulate surprise and sadness, gesticulate, and, hopefully, encourage social interaction with autistic children. KASPAR has two eyes with video cameras and a mouth that can open and smile. The robot was developed as part of the pan-European Interactive Robot Social Mediators as Companions (IROMEC) project. "Human interaction can be very subtle, with even the smallest eyebrow raise, for example, having different meanings in different contexts," says University of Hetfordshire senior research fellow Ben Robins. "It is thought that autistic children cut themselves off from interacting with other humans because, for them, this is too much information and it is too confusing for them to understand." KASPAR was designed to express emotion consistently and with minimal complexity. The researchers hope the human-like robot will act as a "social mediator" for autistic children, and improve their social interaction with other children and adults. "KASPAR provides autistic children with reliability and predictability," Robins says. "Since there are no surprises, they feel safe and secure."
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Cornell Theory Center Is Now Cornell Center for Advanced Computing
Cornell University (07/06/07) Steele, Bill

Cornell University's 22-year-old Cornell Theory Center has been reorganized and renamed the Cornell University Center for Advanced Computing (CAC) in an effort to make the school's high-performance computer resources more efficient for university researchers and to take advantage of more research funding opportunities. Previously, the Theory Center was part of the Faculty of Computing and Information Science, but the CAC will report directly to the Office of the Vice Provost for Research. "Cornell faculty and the center have unique strengths in database, networking, and security technologies that will enable us to make vital contributions to the development of next-generation cyberinfrastructure," says David Lifka, the former director of high-performance and innovative computing for the Theory Center and director of the CAC. The Theory Center was established in 1985 as one of four National Science Foundation-funded national supercomputing centers intended to provide academic researchers with high-performance computing, which was then only available to industry and government. Lifka says part of the reorganization of the Theory Center will be a "refocusing" of its core mission to provide advanced research computing services to Cornell faculty. "One metric of success is how many researchers we serve on campus," Lifka says. "The center will be successful to the extent that we enable the success of the faculty."
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Wireless Sensors Extend Internet's Reach
eSchool News (07/05/07)

Researchers are rapidly embracing wireless sensor networking as a way to keep an eye on physical phenomena, as well as enable students to learn alongside researchers as they collect and examine real-world scientific data; one effort along these lines is being implemented by the six-school consortium of the UCLA-based Center for Embedded Networked Sensing (CENS). "I think there's a tremendous potential for bringing wireless sensor applications into schools, because this area of research is highly connected to social applications," notes CENS' education director Karen Kim. "Research shows that [often] kids find science and engineering more interesting when they can see how it connects to their real life." Kim says CENS is developing an alliance with the Los Angeles Unified School District to create a science-oriented learning community and investigate how various CENS projects can be incorporated into the curriculum. Students and researchers are using data collected by CENS' wireless sensor networks to study the pollution and water quality of the Los Angeles River, and the growth of leaves and trees in mountainous regions. The National Science Foundation funds research at the main CENS facility, and has allocated $40 million over 10 years for the center. But the proliferation and improvement of wireless sensor networking technology raises privacy and security issues. In response, corporations are bolstering safety measures and academics are attempting to improve networks' defense against intruders.
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Searching for Themes Behind Research
Software Development Times (07/01/07)No. 177, P. 10; Koch, Geoff

Yahoo and Google approach research differently because their corporate cultures are dissimilar. Yahoo's approach seems more community-oriented, in keeping with its goal to promote its research team as a nexus of industry innovation. "We want to build something with the industry influence of Xerox PARC, which gave us the modern scientific field of human computer interaction," explains Yahoo Research head Prabhakar Raghavan. "We aspire to be equally ambitious, but at Yahoo, we're much more concerned with the human-to-human interface." Google, meanwhile, has less internal structure, and this decentralization is reflected in its broad spectrum of research projects. A major focus of Google's research is the engineering of algorithms that make sense of large data sets, such as MapReduce and machine translation. Yahoo Research's centralized structure is apparent in the formality and tidiness of its blog page, in contrast to Google's. Raghavan predicts that the Internet "will be less about what you're doing with the screen than what you're doing with 1 billion other humans. Which is why we're continuing to make it easier for people to get together and find reasons to hang out with us; the device inevitably will fade to background."
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